Despite somewhere between 200,000 and 650,000 birds killed every year by wind turbines, wildlife activists are the most fervent supporters of offshore wind farms.
The National Audubon Society in Louisiana say planet-warming fuels like oil and gas harm far more birds than wind and other climate-friendly energy sources ever will.
But alarms went off when the state floated the unusual idea of placing wind turbines in the shallow waters lining the coast. This area teems with a rich ecosystem of sea life and dozens of bird species. Wind farms would turn these areas into “lethal minefields” for birds, a group of retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents warned state regulators.
“Less than 20 years ago, our Louisiana state bird, the brown pelican, was listed as endangered,” the group wrote in a letter to the state Department of Energy and Natural Resources. “What a sad day it would be if our Louisiana state bird were to be put on the endangered list again. For that matter, what a sad day for Louisiana if any species of migratory birds became so rare and would need to be listed as endangered due to the presence of wind turbines in their flight path.”
The letter was one of many voicing their concerns just before the DENR approved agreements in December for the first two wind farms in Louisiana waters, which lay just three miles from the coast. DENR granted Danish firm Vestas nearly 60,000 acres off Cameron Parish and Mitsubishi-owned Diamond Offshore Wind just over 6,100 acres near Port Fourchon.
Wildlife concerns will be addressed on a “when and if” basis should companies apply for permits, said DENR spokesperson Patrick Courreges. If the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries or other environmental regulators object, a project’s permit could be blocked, Courreges said.
Both companies promised to consider wildlife when designing and operating their wind farms.
“Developing a wind farm near the shore - or anywhere - should be approached carefully,” Diamond Offshore said in a statement. A project would need to undergo “rigorous environmental permitting processes” and up to three years of studies, including ones focused on potential harm to birds, the company said.
Conservationists say Louisiana need only look to Rhode Island to see how this process can be done. Before green lighting the Block Island wind farm, Rhode Island required a broad-based environmental analysis and developed a management plan “that has been lauded as a national model,” according to the wildlife federation.
“Louisiana has it backwards,” said Andrew Wilson of the Orleans Audubon Society. Rather than let wildlife assessments help determine wind farm locations, Louisiana is leaving the initial siting to companies”
“Cutting corners, as is currently proposed, will lead to environmental catastrophe (and) potentially stall or halt the project,” he said.